MSLA 2022: “We respond to many names”

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Although K.C. Boyd’s keynote was hampered with technical difficulties, we persisted. (All of us librarians, library media specialists, teacher librarians, etc. are familiar with tech hiccups after the past couple years.) In the first half of her talk, she spoke about the school librarians’ advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C., after schools went remote during COVID. “Always remain ready” to advocate, she advised, even when things are going well, and keep the focus on the students: “It’s not about the librarians, it’s about the children.” It is unfair to students, especially those in already under-resourced schools, to lose access to school libraries and librarians.

(This reminded me of the Massachusetts Equity & Access study from 2018, available for download from MBLC. Even across the Commonwealth, there are dramatic disparities between schools, meaning that some students have access to fully staffed, high quality library media centers, while others have no certified librarian and less (or no) access to library resources. Research has shown that students in schools with a certified librarian and a school library have improved reading scores – something everyone wants – so funding school libraries equally is essential.)

When school libraries are threatened, librarians must become activists as well as advocates. (An advocate speaks on behalf of a person or group; an activist acts intentionally to bring about social or political change.) K.C. suggested that mid-career, late-career, and retired librarians are the ones who should be on the front lines of this advocacy work, and she provided some guidelines for teamwork:

  • listen to understand
  • be respectful
  • let go of your privilege
  • gently “check” your peers
  • wellness checks
  • we are all in this together

Library activists should BE PREPARED with messaging: one message, many voices. K.C. advises, “Remain student-centered at all times….Keep ‘I’ out of the conversation….[the message is] We care about students.” Root your message in research; K.C. cited Dr. Keith Curry Lance and Dr. Stephen Krashen. Librarians can testify at education hearings, write op-eds, use social media, and tap local and national organizations, like EveryLibrary, for help. The bottom line is that “Inequity in school library services is wrong,” and we must work toward equity. She closed by saying, “We all must be truth tellers. Tell the truth. There is strength in numbers.”

Hashtags: #GoodTrouble (a reference to a John Lewis quote, though apparently it is also a TV show now), #DCPSHasLibrarians (DC-specific), #FReadom

Photo of Read-In protest
Photo of read-in protest from NBC Washington https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/dc-school-librarians-hold-read-in-protest-over-funding/2690626/

NLP logoSeparately from her keynote, K.C. Boyd also presented a session on “The News Literacy Project and Digital Citizenship.” KC is a national ambassador for the News Literacy Project (NLP) for the DC/Maryland/Virginia region. K.C. said, “I think it’s very important that digital literacy is taught in our K-12 schools.” Students are bombarded and overwhelmed with information and sometimes it’s not reported well. “We want students to be responsible users of media” and “it is our responsibility…to create a digital world we want to live in.” Particularly in the turbulent past two years – the Black Lives Matter movement, the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, and the COVID-19 pandemic – it is “important for kids to understand where they could get good information.” K.C. said that she wanted her students to have “a full understanding of what was taking place,” so she used the NLP and Checkology to teach media literacy. Those lessons helped kids understand the news and how it is presented in society. “We owe our students the truth,” K.C. said, acknowledging that every community is different and advising librarians to “walk the line.”

The Checkology program is free for educators to use. I first heard about it a few years ago from Damaso Reyes at the “Libraries in a Post-Truth World” conference.

Libraries in a Post-Truth World, Part III: Afternoon Discussion

See Part I and Part II of Libraries in a Post-Truth World.

Workshop Ideas posterboard with post-its

In the Fact, Truth, and Trust group of academic and public librarians and researchers, we discussed confirmation bias, verifying social media content, emotions vs. facts, and building an information diet. We started with introductions and why we had chosen this group. People expressed interest in:

  • How to separate fact from opinion (“Where does truth lie in a society that’s all about opinion and rhetoric?”)
  • How to have programs in libraries and schools without political slant or agenda
  • Advocacy for funding for librarians in schools
  • Teaching/encouraging critical thinking skills
  • Information-seeking behavior and narrative theory, how people construct narratives
  • Trust in/use of data (what people talk about when they talk about data; presentation of data)

One participant commented that “Uncovering bias is one of the highest-order thinking skills we have…it can be almost invisible.” As one of the panelists had pointed out earlier, confirmation bias affects people on both/all political sides. Two people mentioned the site allsides.com (“Don’t be fooled by bias. Think for yourself”), which offers left, right, and central perspectives for real news stories. 

Eventually we came to the idea of “building an information diet” and spent most of our time discussing how we might use that idea to offer library programs on information literacy. The diet analogy will be immediately familiar to most people: a healthy information diet, like a healthy food diet, should be varied and mostly wholesome. There are many ways to approach this:

  • Read/watch/listen to a news source that has the opposite perspective from your usual source(s). Expand/broaden your news-universe; whether or not you agree with it, know where the other side is coming from. Begin to build a bridge from your emotional comfort areas to increase empathy. You may not change your mind, but understand where others are coming from.
  • Debate whose responsibility it is to curb “fake news”/ propaganda/misinformation/disinformation. Social media platforms? The government? Individuals?
  • Incorporate international media sources: look at international coverage of world news and U.S. news. If teaching a class or workshop, international examples are less political, as are sports and entertainment/cultural coverage.
  • Affirm belief in truth and facts: encourage people to be skeptical, but convince them that verification is possible.

As for specific program ideas:

  • Include it in existing summer reading programs.
  • Use the “Whole 30” model, or modify it to a day- or week-long challenge. Those who want to participate can meet at the beginning and end to discuss their strategies and results.
  • Create a game aspect with competition and prizes. Tracking down original sources can be like a mystery or a treasure hunt.
  • Try a version of the Human Library to encourage discussions across political differences. A conversation with a real live person is more likely to change someone’s mind (or create that empathy bridge) than reading an article.
  • Checkology from the News Literacy Project can be used in public libraries. It’s designed for students in grades 6-12 but some parts are appropriate for adults as well.

It’s important to maintain the trust that people already have in libraries, and strike a balance between advocacy and alienation. Be aware that the term “fake news” itself is very polarizing. (But “propaganda” is even more so.) Frame information literacy programs as helpful for “brushing up your skills” instead of teaching something entirely new. 

The information diet idea isn’t original to the Libraries in a Post-Truth World conference; a NYT article has been published since the conference on the same topic (“Fatigued by the News? Experts Suggest How to Adjust Your Information Diet,” Christopher Mele, The New York Times, February 1, 2017). This article was somewhat short on actual suggestions, however, beyond (1) seeking out positive news as an antidote to the barrage of negativity, (2) reading a print newspaper instead of Internet sources, and (3) not reading or watching the news before bed. It also links to an article that cites Dan Gillmor, who popularized the “slow news” movement, partly as a reaction to the 24-hour news cycle.

I used to read Dan Gillmor’s blog regularly, and actually did an activity he assigns to the students in his media literacy class at ASU: to track your own media consumption for one day. It was interesting to do, and could easily be adapted into a library program if patrons were interested in sharing their experience.

I’m grateful for the experience of attending this conference, and hope to put some of the ideas to work here in my library.

“Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains taken to bring it to light” –George Washington

Libraries in a Post-Truth World

On Thursday, January 26, I attended a one-day conference hosted by Phillips Academy in Andover called “Libraries in a Post-Truth World.” There was some helpful pre-conference reading about fake news and hoaxes, information overload, and media literacy:

Why America is Self-Segregating” and “Did Media Literacy Backfire?” by danah boyd, January 9 & 10, 2017

Many Americans Believe Fake News Is Sowing Confusion,” Pew Research Center, December 15, 2016

The Real History of Fake News,” Columbia Journalism Review, December 15, 2016

At Sea in a Deluge of Data,” Alison J. Head and John Wihbey, The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 7, 2014

Mike Barker, Director of Academy Research and Library Services at Phillips Academy, introduced the morning’s panelists:

John Palfrey, Head of School, Phillips Academy, and author
Mary Robb, Teacher, Media Literacy and Democracy, Andover High School
Adam Schrader, Former Facebook editor and news fact checker
Damaso Reyes, Program Coordinator, The News Literacy Project
Melissa Zimdars, PhD, Assistant Professor of Communication at Merrimack College
Catherine Tousignant, English Instructor, Phillips Academy
Alison Head, PhD, Project Information Literacy
John Wihbey, Assistant Professor of Journalism and New Media at Northeastern University
Claire Wardle, First Draft News
Ben Sobel, Fellow, Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University

The panelists were all informed and articulate, experts in their fields; they could have spoken for much longer, but we used the rest of the day for two presentation sessions (Damaso Reyes on The News Literacy Project and Checkology, Alison J. Head on Project Information Literacy), identifying areas of focus for the afternoon discussion, reforming into discussion topic groups, and reporting our results to the other participants.

“Librarians are good at ferreting out what exists and good at making partnerships. Librarians are in the right position to make an impact.” -Alison Head

I attended Damaso Reyes’ presentation on Checkology (“how to know what to believe”), a news literacy program designed for 6th-12th grade students. Reyes showed us videos created for the program (Peter Sagal was in one!) and guided us briefly through the four modules: (1) Filtering news and information; (2) exercising civic freedoms; (3) navigating today’s information landscape; and (4) how to know what to believe. Some key takeaways:

  • “Information literacy is not what it should be in our society, and that’s a threat to our democracy.”
  • When reading/listening to/watching news, ask: What is the primary purpose of this information? (To inform, to entertain, to convince, to provoke, etc.)
  • Consider the role of algorithms and personalization. The information you’re getting is filtered – think about how and why.
  • Trying to teach students to be skeptical, not cynical.
  • Critical thinking & skepticism is an important skill, and should not be outsourced to technology even if it could be (e.g. plugins). “We shouldn’t depend too much on technology to save us.”
  • What you share online has your credibility attached to it.
  • We are all susceptible to confirmation bias.
  • Society stops functioning if we can’t agree on some things (i.e. facts). A fact is something we can all agree on but it is also something we can independently verify.

After the presentation, we talked in small groups to come up with discussion topics for the afternoon. Two of the Phillips Academy librarians sorted our ideas into loose categories:

Partnerships & Collaboration with Faculty
Partnerships & Collaboration with Community
Professional Development
Fact, Truth, & Trust (I was in this group)
Access to Information
Lesson Plans
Teaching Approach
“Other”

I will be writing another blog post (or two) soon about the morning panel and the afternoon discussion. In the meantime, I’d like to share a handout I made for my library to accompany our display on media literacy. Here is the PDF of the tri-fold pamphlet: updated 2/16/17, 3/1/2017 – I have made a new version without the Robbins Library logo, with a Creative Commons license. Please feel free to use and share: 2017-01-fakenewsbrochure-update-2017-03